Play is not risk-free – and nor should it be – but we can control most of the hazards children are exposed to. Toys must be safe by law, but how they are used and the age of the child are important factors in preventing accidents.
Although toys are involved in more than 40,000 accidents each year1, their safety is only part of the problem. Many accidents involving toys occur when people trip over them and when babies play with toys intended for older children.
Toy safety advice
Although illegal, unsafe toys can still be found on sale so it is vital to shop with care.
- Look for the CE symbol.
This is a claim by the manufacturer that the toy meets regulatory requirements. Products without the CE mark may not be intended to be used as toys, but are novelties which may not be safe for children to play with
- Also look for the voluntary British Toy and Hobby Association's (BTHA) 'Lion Mark'.
A condition of BTHA trade association membership is that members' toys will meet the statutory safety requirements
- Buy from suppliers with a good reputation for safe and reliable toys. Many will be members of trade associations whose rules call on them to meet high standards
- If buying toys from a jumble sale or car boot sale, extra care needs to be taken
- Make sure the toys are suitable. Some children, particularly those under three, are more vulnerable, especially to choking, and less able to cope with some toys than older children. It should also be remembered there will be significant differences in the abilities of those in the same age group, and those children with special needs.
- Avoid the following:
- Toys with loose pile fabric or hair which sheds easily, presenting a choking hazard
- Toys with small components or parts which detach
- Toys with sharp points and edges or finger traps
- Loose ribbons on toys and long neck ties on children's costumes
- Small toys sold with items of food
- Check toys periodically to see that they have not become dangerously worn, revealing sharp points and edges or filling materials. Throw them away if they are no longer safe, or if they are a particular favourite with your child have them properly repaired
- Children under three should never be allowed to play with toys which are marked as being unsuitable for them. With some toys it is important to supervise children during play, e.g. chemistry sets. The instructions must be observed and should warn you about all the hazards and how to avoid or control them
- Encourage children to play with one toy at a time, to be tidy and put toys away after play. This applies whether at home or at school or playgroup. Many accidents are caused by people tripping over toys left lying around, particularly on staircases.
Resources for safety professionals
Did you know?
Sales of toys are governed by strict regulations to protect young children from choking – but Christmas novelties are not, and should not be given to children to play with.
Take a look at our information on Christmas novelties.
Many toys are battery-powered. Problems can occur, however, if the batteries are not used correctly, so follow our battery safety tips:
- Always take care to fit batteries the right way round, observing the + and - marks on the battery and compartment
- When replacing batteries, use the same type and always replace a complete set
- Always remove spent batteries from toys and never dispose of them in such a way that they will come into contact with fire
- Store unused batteries in their packaging and away from metal objects which may cause them to short circuit
- Never charge ordinary batteries either in a charger or by applying heat to them
- Small batteries, such as the small disc-shaped batteries used in some watches, electronic games and hearing aids, present a choking danger or, if not caught early, can do serious damage to the gastrointestinal system. Never leave them lying around and make sure that children know not to put them in their mouths, ears or up their noses. See our button batteries page for more information and advice
- Young children should not charge batteries. If older children are allowed to remove or charge batteries, they must be carefully supervised by an adult at all times.
Toys and the law
The Toys (Safety) Regulations 20112 are made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. They prescribe Essential Safety Requirements regarding general principles including design, construction and composition, and also particular risks.
Particular risks address the following hazards:
- Physical and mechanical
- Chemical properties
- Electrical properties
"Toy" is defined as "any product or material designed or clearly intended for use in play by children of less than 14 years of age" but does not include such items as children's fashion jewellery or Christmas decorations.
Third parties, as well as the actual users of toys, must be protected against health hazards and physical injury when the toy is used as intended or in a foreseeable way, bearing in mind the normal behaviour of children.
This places a considerable responsibility on manufacturers to anticipate how their products will be used and to take action at the design stage to prevent injury being caused through foreseeable misuse.
The harmonised European Standard EN 713 provides the recognised interpretation of the legal requirements.
The law is enforced by Trading Standards Officers who are able to take immediate action. They can be contacted at any local unitary, county or London borough authority.
- Home Accident Surveillance System, 22nd Annual report. 1998 data. London: Department of Trade and Industry, 2000.
- Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011, London: The Stationery Office, 2011. SI 2011/1881
- EN 71: Safety of toys.